Botswana has taken the lead in agitating for the complete abolition of the veto power in the United Nation’s most powerful organ, the Security Council. In a lively debate this week on how to make the Security Council a fairer and more democratic structure, Nkoloi Nkoloi who is representing Botswana at the UN National Assembly said: “The African position views the question of veto as divisive, exclusive and subject to abuse by the veto-wielding powers. Africa therefore wishes to see a review of the veto power with a view to abolishing it.”
The Security Council was set up in 1946 after the Second World War, with responsibility for maintaining international peace and security around the world. The Council comprises five permanent members – the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France – and ten temporary members, elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. All 15 members have a vote, but only the five permanent members have a crucial veto power, allowing any one of them to block decisions made by the rest of the Council regardless of the level of support. The veto power is a sore point for many who say there is too much power in too few hands.
The Botswana position was supported by South Africa with its representative Doctor Mashabane coming even stronger, saying the current system is undemocratic and hypocritical.”It is an irony that those who consider themselves to be leaders of the free world and bastions of democracy, are themselves comfortable sitting in an undemocratic, archaic and unrepresentative structure. The more we continue with the rhetoric and not get down to business of negotiating the actual reform, the status quo continues to favour those who are privileged by the post World War Two settlement”, he said. Most nations, however, took a less radical position and proposed that membership of the international peace and security body should be increased to better represent the interests of all nations.
Australia’s representative at the UN, Philippa King, acknowledges this as one of the key points for potential reform.
“A major criticism of the Council is that in recent times in the face of major humanitarian crises, it has failed to discharge its responsibility to maintain peace and security – a responsibility that it exercises on behalf of all member states. Much criticism is directed towards the impact of the use or the threat of use of the veto.”
New Zealand representative Jim McLay says the permanent member nations should value equality over control. “We urge the permanent members to take a hard look at the way they conduct their business.
They could do much to assuage concerns about the legitimacy of Council decisions if they were more open and responsive to the views of the wider membership and if they treated the elected members of the Council, whose votes are needed for all formal Council decisions, treated them more as partners.”